After missing the NCAA tournament the past two years, North Dakota is back and in a big way.
The Gophers men’s hockey team found that out the hard way Thanksgiving night at 3M Arena at Mariucci as the third-ranked Fighting Hawks administered a 9-3 beating of their rival in front of a raucous pro-UND announced crowd of 8,567.
Jordan Kawaguchi had two goals and an assist, Grant Mismash added a goal and three assists, and eight players scored for North Dakota (11-1-2), which extended its unbeaten streak to 10 games (9-0-1). Adam Scheel stopped 18 shots for the Fighting Hawks, who outshot the Gophers 36-21.
“That was a real bad night for us and a very good night for them,” coach Bob Motzko said after the Gophers gave up nine goals for the first time since a 9-6 loss at Colorado College on Feb. 28, 1998.
The Gophers (5-7-3) got goals from Ben Meyers, Jack Perbix and Sampo Ranta, but that wasn’t nearly enough to offset repeated turnovers under North Dakota’s relentless pressure.
Motzko ended up using all three of his goalies. Starter Jack LaFontaine was pulled 4:33 into the second period after giving up five goals on 16 shots. And Jared Moe gave up four goals on 13 shots before being pulled for Justen Close with 6:13 left in the third.
“We had a handful of guys who were working hard [Thursday], but for the most part our team kind of laid an egg,” said senior defenseman and captain Tyler Nanne, one of three Gophers who had minus-4 ratings. “We played soft.”
And the UND fans who packed the arena were loud.
The rout started quickly with North Dakota taking a 1-0 lead 2:22 into the first period when Mismash stole the puck from defenseman Jackson LaCombe and fed Kawaguchi on a two-on-one break. Kawaguchi beat LaFontaine as UND’s fans erupted.
Jasper Weatherby boosted North Dakota’s lead to 2-0 at 13:24 of the first.
Minnesota got some momentum when Meyers cut the lead to 2-1 at 15:41 with a strong move to the net to beat Scheel. On the play, UND’s Andrew Peski was whistled for tripping, and Minnesota went on the power play. The Fighting Hawks killed the penalty, then seized control for good.
Sammy Walker took a tripping penalty at 18:24 of the first — the Gophers’ third penalty of the period — and North Dakota pounced when defenseman Colton Poolman blasted a shot from the point past LaFontaine with 55 seconds left for a 3-1 lead.
“That kind of sunk us,” Motzko said.
In the second period, UND asserted its dominance by scoring four goals and outshooting the Gophers 19-9.
Only 65 seconds into the period, Kawaguchi sped up the middle to split the Gophers defense and beat LaFontaine. After Perbix scored for Minnesota, Mismash pushed a rebound past LaFontaine at 4:33 for a 5-2 lead. That prompted Motzko to replace LaFontaine with Moe.
The Fighting Hawks got to Moe, too, with Shane Pinto and Dixon Bowen scoring for a 7-3 lead through two periods. Jacob Bernard-Docker and Cole Smith tacked on third-period goals.
Afterward, Motzko didn’t sugarcoat things.
“We had a handful of guys who really had bad nights of hockey, and we couldn’t overcome that,” he said. “There was no chance at all.”